Vive La Difference! as they say in France. But we’re not in France, we’re in Blighty, the Old Dart. And for me, there shouldn’t be any differences. Coming home to England should be like shrugging on an old coat and knowing exactly where the pockets are.
Except some of the pockets have moved.
‘Who knew!’ I keep exclaiming as England surprises me again.
It’s not the obvious stuff like Marmite’s not a patch on Vegemite (I already knew that). Or that English cheese wipes the floor with its pasteurised counterpart from Australia (knew that too).
No, it’s the subtle little things that catch you unawares. The good, the bad, and the completely unimportant. Like these:
A King is a Queen
I’m talking beds, of course. Hands up who would give a second thought to bed sizes if they had to pack up all their linen and ship it halfway across the world?
What the English call a King, is actually an Australian Queen. An Australian King is slightly smaller than a British Super King, which is what we’ve ended up with. And don’t get me started on pillow sizes.
Nothing quite tucks in, nothing quite fits properly, but luckily the imperfections are covered by clouds of feathery doonas (or duvets in English. Actually, it’s French, but let’s not confuse the issue).
I’ve replaced some of my Australian fitted sheets. The rest we’ll learn to live with.
Coffee is for mugs
At least, that’s how we like to drink it. In a mug.
And when you’re ordering a takeaway, a mug is the equivalent of a large takeaway cup.
But not if you happen to like flat white. In that case, bad luck because – for some strange reason I have yet to fathom – the Brits won’t make you a large flat white to take away, only a medium. You can have a large cappuccino or a large long black, but not a large flat white.
Central heating is for geniuses
When I was a kid, I took central heating for granted. When it got cold outside, the radiators inside got warm. Simple, efficient, and not worth a second thought. Until we moved to a 500-year old cottage in the English countryside with no idea how the radiators get warm in the first place or, worse still, how to turn them on.
This wasn’t a problem back in July.
It got slightly chillier in August so we started to fiddle with knobs on the radiators. Nothing happened. Luckily, we had a glorious September and the conundrum of the central heating was forgotten.
By October I decided some research was in order.
We discovered we have a huge, ugly oil tank in our backyard and a slightly less offensive boiler in our shed. Somehow, together they create the magic that is called heat which radiates through the radiators. I think. Or something like that.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter. We don’t need to know the mechanics of boilers and oil tanks. We just need to know how to turn the radiators on.
Turns out – as the boiler serviceman showed us to his great amusement – you open up this little white box in the kitchen and flip the switch from ‘OFF’ to ‘AUTO’. And just like that, your radiators burst into glorious warming life.
Except it’s not as simple as that.
You see, the little white box in the kitchen is called the ‘7-day Wireless Programmable Room Thermostat with LoT Technology‘ and you need to be a genius to program it. And we are not genii.
So, we keep the damn thing on ‘MANUAL’ and turn the heating on and off from the old-fashioned knobs on the side of the radiators, which is I’m sure how they did it 40 years ago when I left the UK.
Seems pretty genius to us.
There’s nothing like a drive in the country
I learned to drive in London where it was necessary to adopt a somewhat assertive city style of driving if you wanted to get anywhere. You know the sort of thing. Lots of horn blowing, fist-shaking, and everyone-else-on-the-road-is-an-idiot attitude.
But I never drove in the countryside.
Here, people let you in. They pull up behind a row of parked cars in village streets to let you pass. They back up to the nearest clearing on narrow, one-lane by-roads so you can inch around each other. And they do it all with a smile and a jolly little country wave.
I believe the world would be a better place if we all drove with the courtesy of English country drivers.
Computer says yes. Computer says no.
We registered with our local medical centre when we moved to Suffolk. We filled out the paperwork and gave them copies of our Australian medical records. Within days the system was working, sending us reminders to get our flu jab (six times), and all the other free handouts from the National Health Service.
My application worked a little faster than Russell’s because, as it happens, I’m still in the NHS system. Surprising after all these years – and a little spooky.
Then I tried to register my business online.
You would have thought a government system that’s efficient enough to recognise my National Health profile from the 80s, would also recognise my National Insurance number (tax profile) from the same era.
Computer says no.
It dawned on me, as I sat listening to the mind-numbingly awful on-hold music, waiting for a human being from HR Revenue & Customs to answer the phone, that the Australian Tax Office is cut from the same cloth. In fact, the whole frustratingly bureaucratic experience was a very familiar old coat.
So, no surprises there.
Bring out your dead (and in your bed)
I think there’s an Ikea in Australia, but not north of Brisbane, so assembling flatpack furniture wasn’t something Russell and I have ever experienced.
Now we have.
If there is a next time – God forbid – we will pay someone to assemble it for us, keeping our marriage and sanity intact.
But that’s not the point of my story.
We bought an Ikea bed for the spare room because there was no way we were going to get a ready-assembled one up our tiny stairwell.
It wasn’t until after the whole ghastly Ikea experience that we had the biggest surprise of all.
Like many old houses in England, our cottage has a coffin hatch. It’s a large hole in the upstairs floor, covered by a well-concealed hatch, which was used to lower coffins downstairs that couldn’t otherwise be removed from the house.
And ours is the perfect size to slip a couple of large bed bases and a super king mattress upstairs for our room. No assembly required.
Take that, Ikea!